When mar­riage is con­firmed... 16 years later

Due to in­tri­cate cul­ture around nup­tials, Bhekisisa Mncube via The Love Di­ary of a Zulu Boy re­lates how his English wife was even­tu­ally in­tro­duced to his an­ces­tors

Sowetan - - News -

This is how the story goes. We spent the 2016 Easter week­end with my par­ents in Ulundi in the north­ern part of KwaZu­luNatal. Ulundi, in the heart of Zu­l­u­land, is set among mar­vel­lous hills and the rough val­leys of the White Um­folozi River.

The for­mer cap­i­tal of the Zulu King­dom, it strad­dles Route 66 be­tween Non­goma and Mel­moth. We arrived on Fri­day af­ter­noon. Our trip to Ulundi was an or­di­nary cour­tesy visit to see my fam­ily.

In tow, I had my English wife, mixed-race daugh­ter and son born of a Xhosa-speak­ing mother. My vil­lage is now used to see­ing a white woman among them, so it’s no longer an event worth gos­sip­ing about.

How­ever, as a well-nur­tured Zulu boy, I had sent some money to my mother so that she could buy the in­gre­di­ents re­quired for brew­ing the tra­di­tional Zulu beer known as umqom­bothi. This was a small ges­ture on my part to the an­ces­tors in ac­knowl­edge­ment of their pres­ence in my life: what bet­ter way to do so than to give them some­thing to drink and be merry about. There was no cus­tom­ary slaugh­ter of a beast or goat. This visit was meant to be as rou­tine as pos­si­ble. It turned out to be any­thing but.

Firstly, on the Satur­day, my wife en­tered the Mn­cubes’ kitchen for the very first time with the sole in­ten­tion of play­ing makoti, which meant cook­ing for the in-laws. This had taken her some 16 long years to do. I had de­cided in the week lead­ing up to our visit that it was the time and place for my wife to break with tra­di­tion once and for all.

You see, in my fam­ily tra­di­tion, un­less the bride has of­fi­cially been in­tro­duced to the an­ces­tors through the slaugh­ter of a beast, she can’t per­form makoti du­ties, in­clud­ing cook­ing. De­spite my spirit of de­fi­ance, there was an­other snag. There were 16 mouths to feed. None­the­less, my wife took to the cook­ing task like a duck to wa­ter. Af­ter an epic six-hour cook­ing ses­sion with a mal­func­tion­ing elec­tric stove, food was de­liv­ered to all.

I pat­ted her on the back for a job well done. My par­ents re­mained mum on the break­ing of tra­di­tion. For the past 16 years, my wife has been treated as a vis­i­tor to be served meals at ap­pointed times.

On Sun­day, the cook­ing ses­sion had to be re­peated. Of course, this was now rou­tine for my wife. But some­thing mon­u­men­tal was in the offing. While I was seated out­side one of the huts and whiling away the time shar­ing ban­ter... my fa­ther joined us. He looked ap­pre­hen­sive. I wit­nessed the per­spi­ra­tion run­ning down his neck. At once, he de­manded that all of my fam­ily join us.

I of­fered a re­prieve for my wife and daugh­ter, say­ing they were busy cook­ing. My mother also chipped in to say it wasn’t nec­es­sary. My fa­ther would have none of it ... every­body had to come, be­cause he wanted to do some­thing very im­por­tant.

Sens­ing I wasn’t go­ing to win the bat­tle, let alone the war, I or­dered some ran­dom kid to go and sum­mon my wife and daugh­ter. They de­scended upon the place at once. I didn’t make any eye con­tact with my wife, fear­ing that she would ask me what was go­ing on and I was none the wiser.

My fa­ther, in his petu­lant fash­ion, made no small talk, but got straight down to busi­ness. He an­nounced mat­ter-of­factly that he was al­ready late in his ap­pointed task of speak­ing to amad­lozi about my side of the fam­ily. In Zulu, amad­lozi means an­ces­tors (idlozi is the sin­gu­lar form). It means a hu­man spirit, or the soul of the de­parted.

As he is wont to do, he walked me­tres away from us to be near isi­baya (the kraal) and started uku­thetha idlozi like a house on fire. Uku­thetha idlozi means “to scold”. Zulu his­to­ri­ans ar­gue that uku­thetha idlozi lin­guis­ti­cally gives one the ini­tial im­pres­sion of an ag­gres­sive kind of re­la­tion­ship be­tween the an­ces­tors and their de­scen­dants. In prac­tice, it is not so – the lit­eral trans­la­tion is mis­lead­ing. Uku­thetha idlozi is an ex­pres­sion that im­plies pray­ing to the an­ces­tors, in a way that is not to be con­fused with reli­gious prayer.

It is like a se­nior coun­sel’s prayer be­fore a judge. In its tra­di­tional mean­ing, uku­thetha idlozi refers to the com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the an­ces­tors and their de­scen­dants. Ba­si­cally, you tell them what they ought to know, and pos­si­bly make spe­cial re­quests...

Af­ter a beau­ti­ful ren­di­tion of izithakazelo, mean­ing praises at­tached to a par­tic­u­lar group (in this case, the Mn­cubes) in which the clan’s fore­bears are also re­ferred to, my fa­ther proudly re­ported thus: “I am re­port­ing to you MaZi­lakatha (the Mn­cubes’ praise name) that uBhek­i­sisa, the son of MaMlambo [my mother’s maiden name], is now mar­ried. He has two chil­dren.

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